Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cabin part 5: Moving day!

Finally, here is the post and photos everyone has wanted to see. After about 5 weeks of frantic preparation, excavation, foundation work, and building of the lower level, we were ready to move the cabin to its final home on Birch Lake. Click on any photo to see a larger version of it.

We met Greg Tibbetts, the wizard in charge of the move, at the Great Lakes School of Log Building in Isabella, MN on October 11, at about 2:30 in the afternoon. He brought his 50-foot-long logging truck, which has a huge log claw in the center. Here's what the scene looked like when he started taking it apart. Note the colored tags on each log; these tell him where each log belongs to make it easier to put it back together the next day!

Bruce is inside the cabin (in the red shirt), drilling 1-1/4 inch holes through each log before it is removed. These are wiring channels, so we can run electrical wires up through the logs so they are invisible.

It took less than 2 hours to disassemble the cabin and pack it neatly onto his logging truck.  He promised to be up at Birch Lake, about 160 miles away, at about 8:30 the next morning ... and he was, along with a crew of 6 able helpers. His huge logging truck barely fit into our driveway; its rear wheels were hanging over the edge of the hill next to the cabin.

It was a real panic to get everyone functioning as a team, and there were lots of questions that Bruce and I had to answer. So I didn't even get the camera out until after the first few courses were laid down.

Each log has a carved, U-shaped channel underneath that had to be filled with insulation. So Greg would pick one up and carefully lay it down on the cabin floor (or resting atop the other logs, once there were a few of them in position) with the underside facing up, so the insulation could be added. We used an eco-friendly insulation made primarily out of ground up blue jeans (true!) that had to be cut or torn into strips. We used spray-mount to adhere the strips to the log undersides, then Greg sort of nudged each log over so it was right-side up, picked it up, and placed it into position. The helpers jostled them into final position as needed, sometimes aided by Greg who had to use the side of the huge claw to nudge the logs into place with a tap. Individual logs weighed as much as 500 or 600 pounds, so it was no small feat for the crew to get them into position.

I'm just going to let the next few photos below speak for themselves. As you can see, it was a pretty wild process. (That's me in a few photos, wearing an orange bandanna.)

I served lunch at about noon... a huge crockpot of homemade chili, and sandwich fixings with chips, pickles, cookies and beverages. They inhaled it all. After that, Greg moved the big equipment around so they could use the huge Cat excavator he had brought; for some things, it had better reach than his logging truck, and was used to finish the top of the structure. Rather than a claw, the Cat had log tongs that had to be pounded into the logs to pick them up.

Here she is at the end of the day, along with some of the guys who put it together. (Greg is the guy in the brown shirt on the far right, by the way.)

Now we need to get some sort of roof on it, to protect it against the winter snows (which have already started). The rest of the work will wait until spring, so I'll post more then. Thanks for looking at my photos.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Cabin part 4: Stick frame lower level


Here's a pretty shot to start out this segment. This was taken shortly after sunrise, a week after we'd done the drain tile and backfilling work and the day that the carpentry started. In between, Gale had added more backfill so the carpenters could walk up to the corner of the building to get materials down into the lower level to begin construction. Here's what the structure looked like just before the carpenters arrived.

Hooray! Here come the carpenters... Nace Hagemann Construction and his crew. The Power Trio of Nace, Matt and Mark did an outstanding job for us over the course of the next few days.

At left, Matt and Mark are putting up the joists for the floor of the lower level. These are 2x12s, which are really heavy. They also added blocking between the studs for additional stability. By the end of the day, they had the flooring structure completed.

Bruce and I took a break underneath the floor joists that evening, sitting on the bedrock. We also saw some lovely clouds above the ICF walls shortly afterward.

The next day, the crew wasted no time in getting the floor over the joists and erecting the eastern wall. Mark said that usually a margarita party, with dancing, would be held on a newly installed floor, but it was only 9:00 in the morning so we didn't follow that tradition.

Construction continued for the next two days, and by the end we had some very sturdy walls. The log cabin is a lot heavier than a standard stick-frame structure; some logs weigh up to 600 pounds, from what we've been told. So the stick-frame construction may seem overbuilt, but we all felt that we were better off over-building than under-building.

Construction details continued after we left; the weather had turned nasty so the pace slowed down. Nace put the finishing structural touches on the deck on Friday, October 11, one day before the cabin was moved to its new home (post following).

Cabin part 3: Covering the masonry work

We came back a week after the masonry work was completed, to put pebble board on the ICF walls and to install the drainage system around the foundation. The pebble board is bumpy panels of heavy plastic that protect the styrofoam from the onslaught of the backfill, and also help with the waterproofing. We had to work down in pits alongside the bottom of the foundation to install this stuff, and the sides of the pit were less than stable. These photos are pretty boring, but they're a record for us, so y'all can just whizz by them. The shot below left shows the ICF walls with a black poly coating on them (put on by the masons to protect the styrofoam); to the right, you can see the first course of pebble board we put in, held in place by metal clips that we screwed into the ICFs. You can also see the white drain tile snaking along the bottom of the pit; this will be buried by the backfill.

OK, enough of that! The shot at left shows a truly thrilling pile of pea gravel (washed rock) that is destined to cover the drain tile--the white tubing. What's interesting about this--and you know there has to be some bizarre factoid about it--is that the pile of rock apparently weighs something like 14 tons. Yup, it's all gotta get moved down into the open area next to the footings. And over the course of the day, we moved every darn pound of it, one way or the other. Some of it, twice.

We did have help getting the gravel down into the pit, but it was still a huge amount of shovel work. Gale, the excavator we worked with, was up on top in the parking area using a Bobcat to dump loads of gravel down into the pit, while Bruce and I stood down there (jumping out of the way as appropriate) and then shoveling and pushing it around to cover the drain tile evenly.

Some of it had to be carried down in 5-gallon kitty litter buckets because the Bobcat could not get to the east side. At left, you can see me shoveling some of it into a bucket, getting ready to carry it down the steep hillside and dump it into place. I carried (and dumped) about 15 buckets of this stuff to the east side. By the end of a very long, hard day, we had the gravel down in the pit alongside the structure. We were able to put up some more pebble board.

After the gravel was down, we had to cover it with a layer of gauzy landscape fabric, to keep the dirt and sand from filtering into the clean gravel. Then Gale started the backfill process--dumping and pushing sandy, gravelly fill on top of the fabric-covered pea gravel. It is quite a process, and one about which I knew nothing before this. And I don't want to learn any more! Below are a few shots of our little beauty, with its walls covered in pebble board and the backfill coming along nicely.
Next installment... carpentry to finish the lower level!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cabin part 2: Foundation (finally!)

The foundation was the biggest holdup in the entire process. There are only three masons working in Cook County (where our lot is), and they were all so busy this summer that most of them didn't even return phone calls. We were also held up waiting for our building permit, and lost one contractor because we couldn't commit to his start date since we did not yet have our building permit. We finally found John Elias Masonry out of Cloquet, MN (near Duluth; about 165 miles away), who had a three-day window at the beginning of September. We jumped on it. The masonry crew was there for three days, and stayed at one of the local resorts. (Ca-ching!)

Day One: We had previously cleared the site down to bedrock (seen at left, still wet after power-washing), and in this situation masons build stepped, poured-concrete footings that they pin to the rock by drilling holes in the bedrock and inserting metal rebar, which becomes embedded in the concrete when it is poured. They build a stepped series of wooden forms to contain the concrete; the poured cement footing is about 24 inches wide.

If you've never seen a concrete pumper truck, all I can say is, wow. It is a huge machine with folding arms (seen in the photo at right) and a long, snout-like tube through which the concrete is pumped. In the photo above right, you can see Dan (in the gray hoodie) guiding the snout to fill the forms with concrete; Andy (in the gray cutoff shirt) is to the far right in the photo, smoothing freshly pumped concrete. The snout apparently weighs about 100 pounds and it is quite a job to control the beast.

The pumper is controlled by a guy with a remote-control box strapped around his waist; he can move the arms to lower the snout, swing it side to side, and control the flow of concrete. The pumper truck here came from Duluth, and stayed for two days to work on our job (ca-ching!). It was run by a wildman named Chris (also known as Bo), who clearly enjoyed his work as seen in the photo below right.

We also need two footings for deck posts. The thing that looks like a Gemini landing capsule in the photo at left is the base of the Sonotube post footing; it's bell-shaped so it has a broad base, and inside the bell they've embedded a number of pieces of rebar. These were also filled on the first day.

After the forms and Gemini capsules were filled, Chris folded up the arms and cleaned out the pumper. Note the name on the arm of the pumper, seen in the photo below right ... kind of a funny name for such a huge piece of equipment! (You may have to click on the photo to see the enlarged version, in order to read the name.)

We were plagued with rain throughout the footing-building process; both the workers and we were like drowned rats. About 30 minutes after the foundation was poured, the skies opened and we were lashed with nearly 2 inches of rain overnight.

Day Two: In addition to the stepped footings, we needed two ICF walls (insulated concrete forms), which are made by stacking modular units with styrofoam on both sides of an open area in the middle that will be filled with concrete. As the modules are stacked, the masons position more rebar in the open area, securing them to a web of plastic spacers between the two styrofoam sides. After the concrete is poured, the final result is a concrete wall that is 8 inches thick, insulated both inside and out with styrofoam and reinforced throughout with rebar. Got it?

The first step is to cut away the wooden forms that were used when the footings were poured. Since there was a lot of rebar involved, sparks were flying during the removal of the forms. (Got gas?)

After that, the ICF forms went up very quickly, which is a good thing since Chris was scheduled to return with the pumper truck in the afternoon.

In the photos below, you can see the lower-level foundation walls as well as the full-height walls on the west and south sides (each wall was 8.5 feet above the foundation).

There were some very tense moments when it was discovered that the concrete supplied by the local mixer was too loose, and the ICF walls were in danger of collapse (which would have been a monumental disaster). Luckily it all worked out, and the walls stood even though they shook like jelly (literally) when the workers pushed on them. Scary stuff.

Next, we had to cover the walls with a waterproofing membrane and some pebble board (to deflect the pressure of the backfill) and add drain tiles. Another blog post shows these steps.